- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2013

President Obama is continuing his efforts to relate to the Iranian people and their leaders on their own terms by sending out an outreach video extending them best wishes for a new spring and the Persian New Year.

The video is the fifth of its kind. Shortly after taking office in 2009, Mr. Obama recognized the New Year’s holiday, known as Nowruz, with an unprecedented video message in which he urged the people and the government of Iran to seek the promise of a new beginning as his administration pursued a policy of engagement with the nation’s repressive and belligerent government.

Foreign policy experts have debated the merits of continuing the similar messages each year after Mr. Obama’s diplomacy early in his first term appeared to reach a dead end and Iranian leaders crushed pro-democracy protesters in the wake of a contested election in summer 2009.

During Mr. Obama’s first term and now into his second, the administration also has increased sanctions on Iran in an attempt to halt its nuclear enrichment program.

Despite the heightened tensions, Mr. Obama used the occasion of Nowruz on Monday to once again express his hope that Americans and Iranians will one day work together.

“As a new spring begins, I remain hopeful that our two countries can move beyond tension,” he says in the video. “And I will continue to work toward a new day between our nations that bears the fruit of friendship and peace.”

This time, Mr. Obama even added the word “durood,” which is a common Persian greeting, at the onset of his remarks.

Tina Hassannia, an Iranian-born Canadian, listened to the address and called it “more hopeful than usual,” noting as highly symbolic and an appeal to Persian nationalism Mr. Obama’s use of “durood” greeting and his quotation from the 14th-century Persian poet Hafez.

“Durood” is a specifically Persian greeting meaning “hello,” and Ms. Hassannia said some Iranians use it in contrast to the Arabic-origin greeting “salaam.” Hafez’s poetry is a classic of Persian literature and a staple of Iranian homes.

“Using ‘Durood’ and quoting Hafez makes it clear the kind of Iranian he’s speaking to,” Ms. Hassannia said, agreeing with a Times reporter’s characterization of that audience as better-off, not very religiously devout but with a streak of Persian nationalism.

“Saying durood is a statement,” she said.

But Mr. Obama also used the video to explain why the U.S. is continuing to impose harsh sanctions on the country to try to isolate it economically from the rest of the world.

Iran’s leaders say that their nuclear program is for medical research and electricity,” Mr. Obama said. “To date, however, they have been unable to convince the international community that their nuclear activities are solely for peaceful purposes.”

“That’s why the world is united in its resolve to address this issue and why Iran is now so isolated,” he continued. “The people of Iran have paid a high and unnecessary price because of your leaders’ unwillingness to address this issue.”

Early in the administration, Mr. Obama made a more mild plea to set aside the two countries’ past differences, and other prior videos spelled out the Iranian leaders’ efforts to crush Internet access to the public and denounced the “electronic curtain” Iranian leaders are imposing on its people.

Victor Morton contributed to this report.



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